Man’s arrogance sets off a chain of events that leads to intelligence in apes and a challenge to our place as the dominant species on the planet. Caesar, the first intelligent ape, is betrayed by humans and rises up to lead his species’ spectacular freedom and the ultimate showdown with man. In Caesar, the Oscar-winning visual effects team behind Avatar – have created a CGI ape that delivers a dramatic performance of unprecedented emotion and intelligence.
Set in present day San Francisco, the film is a reality-based cautionary tale where man’s experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. Amidst the confusion of his study’s sudden termination, scientist Will Rodman (Franco) secretly raises a young chimpanzee named Caesar (Serkis) as his own, at home, while caring for his ailing father. Due to exposure in Will’s miracle drug, young Caesar displays intelligence and behaviors unusual for an ape of any age. Inspired by his observation of Caesar’s unexpected gifts, Will, against his better judgment privately continues his research at home, using his father and Caesar as test subjects. But he soon discovers, it has taken him – and ultimately the entire human race – on a ruinous path.
As Caesar matures, his highly-developed intelligence is countered by the aggressive and dangerous protective instincts typical of adult male apes. Caesar soon becomes too much for Will to handle. Parting reluctantly with Caesar, Will takes the chimp to a simian sanctuary where he could be among his kind. Though not the physically strongest ape in the facility, Caesar quickly realizes that in order to survive he must assert his intellectual dominance over his new environment. Caesar soon prevails over the other apes, and at a pivotal and electric moment, Caesar stands up to retaliate against their cruel human handlers.
As Weta Digital utilized its state-of-the-art tools to render photo-realistic apes, the world’s foremost performance capture artist, actor Andy Serkis, came aboard the project to infuse Caesar with nuance, emotion, soul, wisdom and heart. Serkis’ contributions to the movie cannot be overestimated, says Wyatt: “Andy Serkis is our generation’s Charlie Chaplin. By that I mean he’s one of the very few actors around who has fully embraced the available visual effects technology because he completely understands the full potential of what it can achieve. I think some actors are intimidated by performance capture because they think it’s separating their performance from the actual reality of the film, when quite the opposite is true. Andy understands that every little nuance – every breath, every little muscle movement that he gives on camera is visual exposition. Film is primarily a visual medium and if you are able to have your character tell a story with a minimal amount of words, then that’s ideal.”
Caesar’s character arc takes the chimp from a newborn to an adult and the leader of a revolution. Serkis, who gave acclaimed performances as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and as Kong in King Kong, notes that “Caesar is one of the most formidable roles I’ve undertaken, both physically and emotionally. It’s one thing to play a chimpanzee, but to play one from infancy to adulthood – and a revolutionary leader – well, that’s quite another. But it was irresistible to me as an actor.
By the film’s second act, “Caesar becomes a prisoner,” says Serkis. “He gets taken away from a loving environment and feels rejected. He’s questioning his identity. Then he finds the strength to lead and unite the other apes and I think it’s then that he moves into kind of the third stage… which is the revolution. He uses his intelligence to galvanize these apes and then his strength and power to lead them. It’s an extraordinary journey for me, as an actor.”
Weta Digital devised a new portable performance capture rig, which could be set up in different kinds of locations. For the first time ever, notes visual effects supervisor Dan Lemmon, “we were able to get those performances in direct sunlight.”
Weta Digital’s – and the entire production’s – biggest challenges came during the filming of the film’s climax, which unfolds on, above, along and beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
The scene, depicting an epic battle between man and primate, features elaborate stunts, fire, explosions, helicopters, hundreds of cars and extras, and an atmospheric San Francisco fog – as well as the culmination of all the drama, emotion and character interactions.
This scene and the film’s other big set pieces are always in the service of its emotional core and resonant themes. Sums up Andy Serkis: “It doesn’t feel like a visual effects-driven film. It feels like a powerful emotional story with a big backdrop. The action and spectacle work seamlessly with the drama. And that’s why I think it’s really powerful – because the ‘wows’ aren’t in your face. It’s all about finding realism and truth.”
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” opens August 4 in more than 100 cinemas from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.
Watch the trailer here: